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Horse welfare and rider size: HOYS issues statement on show’s lost qualifiers


  • Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) has put out a further statement to “clarify” the changes to its qualifiers at the Great Yorkshire Show (GYS).

    H&H has reported that the GYS had lost its qualifiers for the show hunter pony, children’s riding pony, lead rein pony of hunter type and plaited lead rein/first ridden HOYS finals.

    This was because when asked by HOYS to drop its rider-age rule, put in place as people were still flouting the 20% maximum rider weight rule, GYS organisers stood firm.

    “Whilst it is not the show’s policy to comment on other shows, Horse of the Year Show takes equine welfare very seriously and would like to further clarify the changes to its qualifying classes at the Great Yorkshire Show for the 2022 season,” a spokesman for HOYS organiser Grandstand Media said.

    “In the last two years, Horse of the Year Show has tried on two separate occasions to hold discussions with the Great Yorkshire Show organisers, both before the 2021 season about these new changes, and again prior to the 2022 qualifier allocation.

    “The Great Yorkshire Show is, of course, able to create and enforce its own rules where it sees fit. However, these may not always align with the views of Horse of the Year Show and the relevant societies which these classes are affiliated to, and the show reserves the right not to allocate qualifying classes accordingly. Horse of the Year Show fully supports the Great Yorkshire Show on equine welfare but believes the implementation surrounding this rule needs further thought.”

    The spokesman reiterated HOYS’ statement that although it “always holds equine welfare as our highest priority, we also have a duty of care to the safety of the children riding in our qualifiers. We work closely with both the British Show Pony Society and the National Pony Society to ensure we are all driving the sport forwards in terms of fairness and welfare, and will continue to act as such, stepping in at our shows when we feel a pony is not suitably mounted”.

    In response to the GYS’s explanation that the extra rule was brought in because people were flouting the 20% rule, the HOYS spokesman said: “Horse of the Year Show questions whether a more thorough policing of their previous rule regarding rider weight ratios would negate the need for these further restrictions.

    “Horse of the Year Show supported the Great Yorkshire Show on their rule on anyone riding a horse or pony whose weight, including tack, is more than 20% of the animal’s weight, anywhere on the showground, and believe this addresses, should it be policed thoroughly, the concerns for equine welfare when it comes to being appropriately mounted.”

    GYS entries livestock and entries coordinator Amanda Stoddart-West told H&H that by bringing up policing the rule in this way, HOYS is “surely acknowledging there is an issue”.

    “If the policing had worked and everyone had abided by the 20% rule, we wouldn’t have had to bring in the extra rule,” she said. “Our show vet was regularly out at 3.30-4am in the lorry park still seeing people breaking the rule and he would ask them to dismount, only to see them on a different pony shortly afterwards. This is a serious problem that needed addressing.”

    The Grandstand spokesman added that HOYS has a team of vets and FEI stewards at the show, “constantly assessing and policing the suitability of riders for their mounts during exercise time and warm-ups”.

    “They have, over recent years, stepped in when there was an issue, and therefore we believe significant progress has been made in this area,” he said.

    HOYS event director Jane Warmington added that the show “questions the logic” of the rider-age rule, “when applied to the ponies in question”.

    “There are several examples where the pony would be eligible for multiple classes with widely varied age restrictions,” she said. “A Welsh section B pony could be entered in an M&M open ridden class and have a suitably mounted adult rider for the warm-up and the class. However, this same pony could also enter the show hunter pony class, but that same rider would not be able to warm the pony up if they are not under the relevant age restriction.

    “Similarly, intermediate classes are age restricted for the rider at 25 years old, yet these same horses regularly compete in hack, riding horse and hunter classes with no upper age limit. We question what the difference between a 25-year-old riding this horse compared to a 26-year-old would be if they are both suitably mounted.”

    The HOYS spokesman added that “a number of competitors” have been in touch to say the rule is “not workable in practice” and that they will not be able to attend if it is enforced.

    Mrs Stoddart-West said she was surprised by this as the response she has had has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

    “We’ve had people from Cornwall to Scotland saying they are going to enter this year for the first time to demonstrate their support for us,” she said. “We have had numerous comments from people all over the country saying how pleased they are that we are making this stand for horse welfare.”

    She said the possible anomalies mentioned by HOYS have been raised before, adding: “Yes, we did receive a couple of emails and a phone call from Grandstand Media last year asking for the rule to be removed but, as this year, we refused for the same reasons. They had also asked how this was going to work when a small hunter may be ridden on a Tuesday by an adult and then be entered in the intermediates on the Thursday. We addressed this by adding the following to the regulation: ‘Where an animal is entered in multiple classes, the respective restrictions apply up to the conclusion of each class and thereafter immediately pass to those regulations associated with the next class; at all times the general rule about riders needing to be appropriately sized to their mount, is applicable’.”

    The HOYS spokesman also said entries in the classes concerned had “declined, on average, 31.5% in the last three seasons”, adding: “As a result of this, exacerbated by the new rule, it is no longer viable to hold these qualifiers at Great Yorkshire Show.

    “We hope this rule will be reconsidered for future Great Yorkshire Shows and welcome further discussion on this topic with the show organisers and relevant societies.”

    Mrs Stoddart-West said the statistics show that entries had fluctuated, but no more so than in some other classes; the middleweight hunter in 2011 had 36 entries but in 2021 it had 17, and in each of the two years before that, it had 22 entries. She added that the rule will not be changed, as “Horse welfare is and will always be our highest priority”.

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